Hook & Anchor - Hook & Anchor
Record Label: Jealous Butcher Records
Release Date: July 29, 2014
Ah, the wonders of the side project.
Hook & Anchor is the side project of Blind Pilot musicians Kati Claborn, Luke Ydstie and Ryan Dobrowski, who have joined forces with veteran fiddle player Gabrielle Macrae and veteran pedal steel player Erik Clampitt. Their debut release is a harmless and accessible frolic through vintage Americana, old-time country and ample amounts of attitude.
Though the disc opens with the sleepy ballad “Famously Easy,” things lurch forward on the banjo-driven “Wild Wind,” a far more immediate and accessible effort that easily should have been the lead cut. The oddly titled “Considering Spectral Pinching,” is a fiddler’s delight and coasts on the velvety voice of Kati Claborn. With ample amounts of sass and an intoxicating acapella flourish at the end, the song packs a wallop and never once relents. In every sense of the word, Hook & Anchor are purveyors of vintage country and nowhere is that more apparent than on the breezy summer stomper “Light of the Moon.”
Utilizing an array of instruments, one would have to think the band would be expert at crafting a winning ballad and sure enough the gorgeously tender “No It’s Not” is that song. Arguably the album’s first real wow moment, “No It’s Not” is the quintet firing on all cylinders and proving that there’s a heck of a lot of Music City in this Portland ensemble.
The disc takes a gigantic step forward on the second act, with the help of the lo-fi lullaby “Hammer.” Multi-instrumentalist Erik Clampitt steps to the mic and dazzles in a song that is an absolute must-listen for any fan of first-rate folk ensembles. Bolstered by four-part harmonies, “Hammer” revolves solely around the vocals themselves, with only a piano to be heard. Claborn returns on the violin-soaked “Tomorrow Night,” and “Hard Times,” both of which are buttery cut of windswept country that delight from the very first notes.
Hook & Anchor revisits the precision of “No Its Not” on the sorrowing “Hazel Dell,” another ballad that finds the band in fine form. The group kicks up the sonic ante on penultimate cut “Blackbird” but its lasting power pales in comparison to its predecessors. Hook & Anchor ends beautifully on the inspiring ballad “Fine Old Times” and the stirring acapella bonus track “Rock Salt and Nails,” an effort that revisits the magnetism of “Hammer” but goes far deeper.
Perhaps what’s most refreshing about Hook & Anchor is how effortless and timeless it is. Buttressed by lap steel, these are songs that are lilting, pleading and mournful, a motif that lends itself more to country music circa 1960s than that of 2014. That is to say, in a country music landscaped that is dominated by pop crossovers, hip-hop posers and armfuls of schlock, a record like Hook & Anchor is a welcome tonic to the blight that has become Music Row. Even when it stumbles (and it does) there are enough pleasantries here to warrant a handful of repeated listens. And sometimes, that’s all that really matters.